Earlier this year, researchers showed they can make paralyzed primates walk again. The above video from Nature shows how neuroscientist Grégoire Courtine of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and his team used a brain-spine interface to bypass the injured spines of monkeys and allow them to walk on a treadmill.
Unlike other research that focused on reading signals from the brains of paralyzed people or animals and translating them into the movements of an electronic arm or a cursor on a screen, Courtine’s team used an electrode implanted in the monkey’s brain to read the animal’s intention to move its legs, then wirelessly transmitted that signal to other electrodes implanted along the animal’s spine, past its injury. Those electrodes then fired in a pattern similar to the natural nerve signals that would come down the spine of a healthy animal.
There’s still a long road ahead before Courtine’s work could enable paralyzed humans to walk again. For one thing, the technique currently relies on recording the neural signals the monkey uses to walk while it’s still healthy, which can’t be replicated in a human who is already injured. Still, to restore locomotion to a paralyzed creature so similar to humans is a very promising lead indeed.